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Jury convicts Duluth man in 2019 murder

James Peterson is the second man to be found guilty at trial for the West Duluth shooting death of Timothy Nelson. He'll likely face a lengthy prison term, with his co-defendant already sentenced to 25 years.

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James Michael Peterson
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DULUTH — Three years and one day after Timothy Jon Nelson was found with a fatal gunshot wound in West Duluth, a final defendant has been convicted of his role in the Proctor man's murder.

A Duluth jury late Friday night convicted James Michael Peterson, 41, on a charge of aiding and abetting intentional second-degree murder. The panel deliberated for about 10 hours Friday, having heard closing arguments in the morning after four days of testimony this week.

Peterson is the second defendant to be convicted of murder, with Christopher Floyd Boder already serving a 25 ½-year prison term for his role.

Nelson, a 33-year-old father of five children and stepchildren, was found with a gunshot wound in his truck on the 300 block of North 62nd Avenue West around 1:45 a.m. on Sept. 22, 2019. He was taken to a local hospital and quickly pronounced dead.

The case involved a complex series of events with differing claims of liability — but, by all accounts, it started with an attempted robbery. Jamie Sanford, who knew both men, testified at both trials that Nelson drove her to the scene so she could obtain drugs from Boder.

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Christopher Floyd Boder

Rather than going directly to Boder's residence, 224 N. 62nd Ave. W., Sanford had Nelson drop her off roughly a block away. She said she walked to the house, and then got in Boder's car while he drove to a nearby dead-end location so they could smoke methamphetamine.

After 10 or 15 minutes, she testified, Nelson suddenly appeared and reached into the driver's-side window, grabbing Boder. The two men did not know each other and Nelson was apparently oblivious to the fact that Sanford, his friend, was in the passenger seat. A brief struggle ensued, with Nelson leaving empty-handed after being punched by Boder, she testified.

The witness told jurors that Boder then drove back to his house, briefly entering the residence and reemerging armed with a long-barreled gun, followed by Peterson. Sanford said Peterson got in the back seat and held on to the weapon while Boder drove her to a Proctor gas station, where she had previously arranged to be picked up by another friend.

Sanford claimed she tried to broker a peaceful resolution, but said the two men joked about how "someone would need to know where the body was." She said she called Nelson to warn him because "I didn't think it would turn out well."

Sanford added that she spoke with Peterson by phone a few hours later, with the "frantic" defendant telling her that "he didn't mean for it to escalate the way it did, that Tim kept lunging at him, (Peterson) pulled the trigger and (Nelson) had a pulse when we walked away."

But without testimony from anyone directly involved in the confrontation, jurors were left to draw conclusions from a series of surveillance video clips and observations from neighbors in the area where Nelson was shot.

James Peterson is on trial for the death of Timothy Nelson, a 2019 case that has already resulted in one lengthy prison sentence. The defense claims he was not present for the shooting.

Boder had contended at his trial that Peterson was responsible for the shooting. But Peterson's attorneys, Matthew Benfield and Mike Ryan, claimed that he had been dropped off at home before the shooting ever occurred.

They criticized investigators' heavy reliance on the account of Sanford, who early on in the case was simply known as Witness X. The defense also cited evidence that Boder was seen chasing after a small SUV, in contradiction of the account given by authorities.

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But St. Louis County prosecutor Nate Stumme said Peterson's claim of being dropped off "simply makes no sense." He said video showed the car driving at roughly the speed limit from Proctor to West Duluth.

Even a 30-second detour to the residence would have required the car to travel at an average speed of 84 mph along residential roads, the prosecutor told jurors.

Because both Peterson and Boder were charged with aiding and abetting one another, it was not necessary for Stumme to definitely prove in either trial who actually pulled the trigger.

With Friday's verdict, all four people charged in connection with the case have now been convicted. Two others, Amber Rose Louise Forrest and Taylor Ann Fredrickson, both pleaded guilty to obstructing the police investigation and were given probationary sentences.

Peterson is being held in the St. Louis County Jail pending sentencing before Judge Leslie Beiers.

Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or tolsen@duluthnews.com.
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